It was Halloween, appropriately enough. I was sat on the bus travelling back from the City of Manchester Stadium. We had just convincingly defeated Aston Villa 3-1 to go 4th in the Premiership. The bus was abuzz with chatter about how well we were doing, my Dad was positively beside himself revelling in a glorious season; but it was there that I first toyed with the idea of not renewing my City season ticket.
I suppose all football fans have had that “what am I doing here” feeling from time to time, but this one was different. Sat alone amongst a sea of blue plastic seats when I watched us tumble out of the League Cup to Lincoln a few years ago, beaten by a comical goal in front of a few thousand spectators, you can understand why I questioned my sanity; but in those days there seemed something to fight for and I couldn’t desert my team at such a time. But to question your loyalty when you are in the top six on merit, possibly looking at a European place, and yet you are bored witless, signified something deeper.
In part it is down to City’s circumstances. For years we City fans were treated to relegation battles and promotion scrapes on an almost annual basis. Now, (more or less) comfortable after four straight seasons in the Premiership, there seems little to fight for. I never thought we would hold onto 4th spot, and we didn’t, but nowadays that is the very top of our ambitions, and it doesn’t excite me. Outside the top clubs the very best you can hope for is to fluke a good season into the preliminary round of the Champions League, where you are unlikely to even survive as long as the last of the summer’s wasps. Fall a bit short and you could still end up in the UEFA cup. Whoo-hoo. Last time we competed in that competition it just served as an irritant, forcing us to reschedule the few remaining fixtures that hadn’t already been rescheduled by Sky. So on that Halloween night I realised that for a City fan this was about as good as it was likely to get, and I wasn’t inspired.
But it’s not just City, it is football in general. I remember in the old days you would watch a match where one side would put the other team under a bit of pressure, where the crowd would roar as your team forced corner after corner, or your side would defend valiantly against your opponents onslaught which could last for 10 or 20 minutes. That rarely seems to happen nowadays as teams act so negatively, even coming to such an anti-fortress as Eastlands deciding to pack midfield for 90 minutes and get bodies behind the ball to hopefully force a 0-0 draw. Goals and chances appear, if ever, seemingly out of nothing following a prolonged period of probing and parrying. If in days gone by teams could be said to press forward trying to inflict a knockout blow, today sides spend much of the match sparring, while I sit in the stand and daydream.
I think Jose Mourinho has had a negative influence on the game. With all the wealth at his disposal he could have built a wonderful side in whatever image he chose; but he went for a solid, dependable and relentless unit. He deserves his success, but I don’t want to watch his side. He also seems to have influenced other managers in their dealings with the press; the Wenger “I didn’t see it” has been replaced by the Mourinho “I did see it, and there was nothing wrong with it”. I am getting pretty tired of referees and their assistants making correct decisions only for the managers to defend their players antics and cry victimisation. I am not trying to pin all the blame on Mourinho, but he deserves his fair share.
This all seems a bit unfair on Stuart Pearce. Under his stewardship City are more attack minded than many other sides, and in interviews he seems almost saint-like in his reasonableness. It isn’t his fault, but that is the way it is. Since making my decision not to renew my season ticket I have seen little down at Eastlands to make me change my mind or regret my decision. Almost every game I have seen, win or lose, seems to follow the same dull and un-engaging pattern. I still intend to go to the odd game, and I will watch matches on TV (in the pub or at my parents’) and on the (ahem) internet, where it is easier to sack it if it is boring; but the sense of duty which kept me going for a while is long gone. With tonight’s 3-1 defeat to Arsenal (ironically one of the more entertaining games this season) I have watched my last match as a season ticket holder, and the overwhelming feeling is one of relief.